CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Maki Samoskevics He suited up right away as a freshman for the University of Michigan team last season, but the Florida Panthers forward is looking for a bigger role on his way to the NHL.
Samoskevich was the eighth-leading scorer with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games for Michigan, which advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four before losing 3-2 in overtime to eventual champion University of Denver.
The No. 24 pick out of Florida in the 2021 NHL Draft, Samoskiewicz was one of five Michigan players selected in the first round that year, with the other four being defensemen Owen Power (No. 1, Buffalo Sabres), forward Matty Beniers (No. 2, Seattle Kraken), defenseman Luke Hughes (No. 4, New Jersey Devils) and forward Kent Johnson (No. 5, Columbus Blue Jackets).
Samoskevich and Hughes are the only two of the five who have yet to sign an entry-level NHL contract, allowing them to become leaders and key players for Michigan this season.
“I’m very excited,” Samoskevich said. “Must [take on a bigger role] a little bit with the guys that left for the Olympics (Beijing 2022) last year (Power and Johnson played for Canada, Benies and forward Brendan Brisson played for the United States), so we definitely got a little taste of that. And then I think they will be a very good team as well. I think it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun.”
How long Samoskevich stays at Michigan before turning pro remains to be seen, but the Panthers like his trajectory.
“He’s going to be a special player, in my opinion,” said Gregory Campbell, the Panthers’ vice president of personnel and player development. “And I’m not alone in that thought. He was a little bit sheltered this year because they had such a strong team at Michigan, so I think this year he’s going to excel even more.
“We’re happy that he’s come through and now he’s going to have a chance to be a leader for his team coming into this season. I think he’s a guy that’s not far off from playing in the NHL.”
Although Campbell stressed it was important for the Panthers not to rush Samoskevich, he praised his skating and said his shooting is already at an NHL level.
Samoskevich (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) said he feels his skating is the best part of his game.
“I think when I move my feet and play with speed, [I’m] tough to play against,” he said. “I think it’s definitely ready (for the NHL). And one thing I could be better at [at] probably plays under contact. The NHL has a lot of big guys, so to be able to play through that and get comfortable with that, I think that’s going to be a huge thing for him to adjust to and definitely get better.”
Samoskevich, who will turn 20 on Nov. 15, arrived at Michigan after playing three seasons with Chicago of the United States Hockey League.
He said he wasn’t able to watch the Panthers live last season when they played the Red Wings in Detroit, although he did watch some of their games on TV. The Panthers had the best regular season in their history (58-18-6, 122 points), winning the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the NHL.
“They’re such a fun team to watch,” Samoskevich said. “So it makes you want to be out there with them even more. And hopefully one day it will happen.”
As to when that day would come, Samoskevich was not ready to predict.
“Yes, I hope so, whenever I’m ready,” he said. “When I get to the League, I want to make an impact [player] right now. So whenever I’m ready to do that, I think that’s what I’ll do. If it’s next year, whatever it is, that’s it, I’ll do it.”